White House honors Al Pacino among others for contribution to American culture

The World

President Barack Obama has awarded medals to actor Al Pacino, poet John Ashbery, country musician Mel Tillis and economist Amartya Sen, among others, for their contributions to the nation in the fields of arts and the humanities.

In a ceremony in the White House East Room, Obama bestowed eight National Medal of Arts and nine National Humanities Medals, the Washington Post reported.

According to the Post, Obama said the role of artists and scholars in the nation’s future "would be equally as important as the next generation of engineers and scientists."

Reuters quoted the president as saying: "We are told we are divided as a people, then suddenly the arts have the power to bring us together.

To applause, he continued: "The arts and humanities do not just reflect America, they shape America. As long as I’m president, I look forward to making sure they are a priority for this country."

ABC News quoted him as saying: "In moments of calm, as in moments of crisis; in times of triumph, as in times of tragedy: you help guide our growth as a people. The true power of the arts and the humanities is that you speak to everyone. There is not one of us here who hasn’t had their beliefs challenged by a writer’s eloquence; or their knowledge deepened by a historian’s insights; or their sagging spirits lifted by a singer’s voice. Those are some of the most endearing and memorable moments in our lives."

Pacino, 71, was awarded the National Medal of Arts, one of the nation’s highest honors for artists, with Obama citing his "signature intensity as an actor," Reuters wrote.

Tillis, 79, meanwhile, overcame a stutter to record more than 60 albums and has write more than 1,000 songs, including the hits "Coca-Cola Cowboy" and "Good Woman Blues."

The United Service Organization was awarded for contributions to lifting the spirits of America’s troops and their families through the arts. 

Amartya Sen, who won his Nobel Prize for Economics in 1998 for his studies of the roots of poverty, was recognized for his insights into the causes of poverty, famine, and injustice. 

The other arts honorees were:

— painter and printmaker Will Barnet

— author and former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove

— art curator and philanthropist Emily Rauh Pulitzer

— sculptor Martin Puryear

— pianist and teacher Andre Watts

Other than Sen and Ashbery, the winners of the National Humanities Medal were:

— Princeton University philosophy professor Kwame Anthony Appiah

— historian Robert Darnton, an expert on 18th century France

— Andrew Delbanco, a professor of American literature at Columbia University

— National History Day, a program aimed at increasing U.S. students' interest in history

— pianist and author Charles Rosen

— Teofilo Ruiz, a University of California Los Angeles history professor specializing in medieval Spain

— Stanford University literature professor Ramon Saldívar

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